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Achill in desperate need of GP

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BIG SPEND HSE Community Healthcare West have confirmed it has cost €260,000 to provide GP cover for the parish of Achill over the last year. Pic: Aerial Photography Mayo

Cover for one Achill GP cost €260,000 in a single year

Oisín McGovern

A TOTAL of €260,000 has been spent providing cover for one vacant doctor’s post in Achill, The Mayo News has learned.
In response to a query from this newspaper, HSE Community Healthcare West confirmed this figure had been spent on cover for the position up to February 28 of this year.
The post, which has been vacant since January 17, 2021, is currently being filled by a temporary GP employed through a locum agency.The post in Achill Sound, which has been vacant since January 17, 2021, is currently being filled by Dr Ibrahim Al-Meray, who is employed by the HSE through a locum agency on a full-time basis.
Dr Bernadette O'Leary is based between this practice in Achill Sound and a second GP surgery on the island in Pollagh.
HSE Community Healthcare West said that the costs include regular daytime out of hours work.
“As there are only two GPs employed in Achill, the out of hours work is divided between them. This has greatly contributed to the cost of employing a GP in a temporary capacity through a locum agency,” it said in a statement.
The parish of Achill, which had a population of 2,569 in 2011, was once served by six GPs. It had four practitioners as recently as 2020 but subsequently Dr Edward King retired and Dr Fergil Coulihan and Dr Noreen Lineen-Curtis left their posts.
In county Galway, a total of €1,100,000 has been spent on locum GP cover on the islands of Inis Meáin and Inis Oirr in the past three years.
GPs in Ireland typically earn between €57,000 and €85,000 a year, according to analyses done by Indeed.ie and Payscale.ie. Some GPs in larger practices can earn over €100,000 per annum.
Achill-based county councillor Paul McNamara is now calling on the HSE to fill the vacant position as a matter of urgency. He told The Mayo News that the shortage of GP services is having ‘a major effect on the area’.
“Of the 2,500 people that live in Achill, 60 percent of them are over 60. It’s definitely a worry; an hour from [Mayo University Hospital] is a long way away if someone is very, very sick,” Cllr McNamara said.
“Unfortunately, if there isn’t a GP available the consequences can be catastrophic.”

Personal relationship
The Fianna Fáil councillor said that the problems filling GP vacancies in Achill were being seen across rural Ireland.
“I always say rural Ireland can be a rural parish 15 minutes outside a town that has all those facilities, but unfortunately we have the ‘rural rural’ end that’s an hour from all those facilities, and those places have been neglected over the years. Unfortunately, it’s coming to light now.
“But for the Kings and the Lineens who have served the parish well [as GPs] for 60 years, this problem would have been there years ago. It’s just another sense of the rural areas being left being in Ireland, and particularly the west of Ireland.
“Westdoc does cover at the weekend, but at this time of year the population does double, and it peaks at 10,000 people at the month of August. It’s a problem all year round not just two months of the year,” he added.

‘Ridiculous’
Cllr McNamara described the sum of money spent by HSE to provide GP cover in Achill as ‘ridiculous’.
“The elderly people don’t really know who their GP is from month to month, which isn’t a good thing in a rural area. That was one thing that Achill did have, it had a GP that had a personal relationship with the sick and the elderly, but unfortunately that’s gone,” he said.
The only other vacant GP position in the county is in Charlestown, where €8,000 has been spent on locum GPs since the practice was vacated on January 19, 2021.
Seven hundred GPs are expected to retire in the before 2028, according to the Irish College of General Practitioners.
Ireland has 29 percent less GPs per capita than the UK and is expected to need over 2,000 new family doctors over the next decade.

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